Description: Did you see those news videos of interviews with young adults partying on or near beaches during spring break and expressing disdainful disregard to distancing and other Covid-19 mitigation efforts? If you did, how did the statement made in the interviews make you feel? Anger? Disgust? If so, you were actually experiencing symptoms of a flair-up in your Behavioral Immune System. We have a number of complex systems that are actually the result of evolutionary adaptation over many generations and to understand what they “automatically” do for us and why they do it (even if the resulting anxiety is perhaps seriously out of proportion with what our personal circumstances actually require) we need to think about the physical and social worlds in which those system evolved (what they were adapting to). Our physiological immune system is amazing but its functionality (when it kicks in) comes at serous costs in terms of energy demands and short-term drops in cognitive functionality. As the author of the linked states: Having health insurance is great until you have to use it. Due to the costs associated with the deployment of our physiological immune system we have evolved a behavioral immune system that helps us manage the likelihood that we will need to use our physiological immune system. Think about what our behavioral immune system might include (beyond disgust for pandemic beach partiers) and once you have a bit of a list have a look through the article linked below to see what evolutionary and Psychological science has to say.
Source: The fear of the coronavirus changing our psychology, David Robson, BBC Future
Date: April 1, 2020
Any surprises? Our reactions to the violations of social norms surprised me somewhat. I have been thinking and writing about our confusions and uncertainty in the face of shifts in social norms (e.g., the lost of physical social contacts like handshakes and social touches) but I had not focused on reactions that are predicted by our behavioral immune system functioning. Think about general reactions to toilet paper hoarding or to people that bought up sterilizing wipes and Lysol in the hopes of cashing in on the demand for such things by reselling at big markups. We ARE a social species even if we do not pay nearly as much attention to that fact as we should. Notice the functioning of your social immune system, it is rather important!
Questions for Discussion:
- What does our social immune system consist of?
- What are some examples of social comments (memes, etc.) that reflect aspects of our social immune systems in action?
- What are some of the ways that our social immune systems are or are not matching well with local, provincial/state, or federal requests and regulations in relation to Covid-19?
References (Read Further):
Murray, D. R., & Schaller, M. (2012). Threat (s) and conformity deconstructed: Perceived threat of infectious disease and its implications for conformist attitudes and behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, 42(2), 180-188. Link
Wu, B. P., & Chang, L. (2012). The social impact of pathogen threat: How disease salience influences conformity. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(1), 50-54. Link
Murray, D. R., Kerry, N., & Gervais, W. M. (2019). On disease and deontology: multiple tests of the influence of disease threat on moral vigilance. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10(1), 44-52. Link
Park, J. H., van Leeuwen, F., & Stephen, I. D. (2012). Homeliness is in the disgust sensitivity of the beholder: relatively unattractive faces appear especially unattractive to individuals higher in pathogen disgust. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(5), 569-577. Link
Aarøe, L., Petersen, M. B., & Arceneaux, K. (2017). The behavioral immune system shapes political intuitions: Why and how individual differences in disgust sensitivity underlie opposition to immigration. American Political Science Review, 111(2), 277-294. Link